I am certain that I have written on this topic before. Certain because I have had the same exact prompt for exploration of the subject again and again.
And again someone offers advice that to make myself more visible as a poet I should teach workshops on this or that (sometimes the suggestion doesn’t even involve teaching poetry). It is interesting. And it is unintentionally demoralizing. I already have a job that isn’t writing.
There seems to be this idea that if people like you personally, they will like your poetry. “They just need to get to know you.” That seems odd to me. I don’t know writers whose work I admire. And in some instances, I dislike writers whose work I admire. And I wonder if the genre writing “community” is as similar to a cult-of-personality?
I asked my Canadian publisher which of her titles sold best. She didn’t take a beat: those who are very visible on social media.
It is interesting. And perplexing. I have a full-time job. I write daily, hand-bind books and make broadsides from handmade paper. I’m writing the newest manuscript, keep two Instagram accounts, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page (I spent weeks setting up a shop there, which has yielded 1 view). I have even begun to delve into Etsy and Pinterest. I have a dog, a husband and – despite Covid – friends. The last two things I mention require me to shower, too.
Where do people find the time to do more? I am impressed!
“Serve the Community”. It’s common advice to writers – and to visual artists. The marketing advice is almost identical to the advice offered to people selling workshops about marketing. To people selling pilfered quotes on t-shirts and coffee mugs.
The word “ingratiate” keeps coming to mind. I am not saying people who are popular ingratiate themselves, but any conscious attempt to become popular on my part would be.
I have never been someone who (successfully) vies for attention. Four people in a room, and I will press myself against the wall to watch. I think it’s why I am a writer. And a writer who has on occasion had much more to drink than was wise at conferences, just to be able to make small talk.
I am naturally more of an (amateur) social scientist, watching discreetly from the corner of the room noting observations about the fascinating gaps between spoken language and body language, than I am someone who dances on the table. I can control a classroom, but when all the teachers are in the room at the same time, the only thing that tells me apart from the students is my gray hair and drooping skin.
Literally, I have been an alien for nearly 30 years. Figuratively for much longer. I tried very hard to fit in in high school. And gave up entirely my junior year. All that contorting was very painful. And I never could figure out what I would win from it. Is it possible for life to still be like a bad teen rom-com when you are over 50?
I’m not going to win any popularity contests. And I am going to be okay with that.
In 7th grade, I did win a dance contest. The hustle was on the way out, but disco was still in. All the boys were named Steve or Greg. All the girls were Rebeccas and Pams. I do remember some things. A Halloween party and I tripped and got an ironic nickname for my performance. The nickname meant I belonged – for about four months. Then moved again. To start over in another town. You can’t bring nicknames with you. Especially when they’re ironic.
It’s weird I remember that nickname. Those people.
I’ve been thinking about how I have carried on a pattern of starting over throughout my life – even when it wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I circle back. And even though I get distracted, “Ooo – wouldn’t that be fun to do!”, I do think I am moving in an ever-tightening circle. Sort of zeroing in on a kind of contentment that isn’t dependent on other people’s responses. Not there yet. But closer.
I have a tattoo on the base of my neck. It is one of those Eastern-inspired Western designs that are about life’s path. I asked my (then) teen son to design it for me. It has a strange hard turn in one of the concentric circles. I’ve never asked him what it was. I assumed it was the divorce in his mind, though it was something else to me. Or maybe: AND it was something else for me. So when the tattoo artist assumed it was a mistake and asked me if I wanted him to “fix” the design. I said no.
My older son keeps reminding me to stay true to my joy. He doesn’t use those words – I have no idea whose words those are, actually. He says, only do the marketing as long as it is fun.
I haven’t submitted work to journals in over 5 years. I want to have my head together before I do. I want to have my personal guidelines clear before I even look at the calls.
Writing is my practice. It is not my livelihood. I’m going to try to dance, not hustle.
what feels like a hard
turn – decisive and brutal
will turn back again
in time imperceptibly
softening in the distance
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Thank you for these words. Sentence after sentence rings true for me. “They just need to get to know you…”: argh. For me to try to make myself popular for the purpose of marketing books would violate my soul and therefore my poetry. And developing this kind of persona often seems to require a certain amount of pretend sincerity – an “I’m so relatable you won’t be able to help loving me” vibe that makes me want to retreat into Emily Dickinson.
I didn’t think I was alone with this – but it does help to know for sure. I think of that Sondheim song from Sunday in the Park where George has to remind himself they aren’t judging him – but his “work”. Or that they are supposed to be.
The hustle is hard. Among those of us who are not comfortable with drawing attention to ourselves, some manage well using social media; others, not so much (me, for example). Five years is a long time to refrain from submitting, but I have refrained for that long in the past.
So the question remains, why do the work if you don’t get it out there where the work can communicate with others? There are many very good reasons to do the work. No one can tell you you are ‘doing it wrong.’ Keep the turnback in your tattoo design.